You had two choices: wait on hold for an interminable amount of time just to wait another 30 minutes (even though they said 10) for a cab to arrive at your place, or brave the elements and play thumb roulette, also with no knowledge of how long it would take to actually flag one down.
After entering the back seat you were then forced to parlay the odds among a host of increasingly slim outcomes: Would you be blessed with a driver that didn’t smell like cigarettes and cheap whiskey? Would he be able to speak English? Did he know where you wanted to take him? If so, would he try to add more than a couple bucks on to your fare by giving you an unrequested tour of your city?
Then it was a crapshoot: Was the driver’s card machine was “broken”? You had heard rumors that they were forced by the city to accept cards, but it also felt like, ever since hearing that rumor, more cab drivers had “broken” machines. What if you didn’t have cash?
The traditional taxi cab service had become a casino of complicated gambling games; you were bound to lose more than you won. And by “win” I mean be treated to the service for which you paid.
It was into this environment that Uber came charging like white knights in black Cadillacs, ready to combat the downright corrupt practices into which established taxi services had devolved. With Uber there were no phone calls or thumbing- everything was done through an app. They picked you up in black town cars and some of the drivers even opened the door for you. Most importantly, they took you where you wanted to go using the shortest route possible. It was fair (if slightly more expensive). It was convenient. It was actually enjoyable. It was as disruptive to urban transportation as Napster had been to the music industry, and taxis reacted in protest accordingly.
So how did it come to be that, less than two years after they expanded into Boston, Uber sucks now?
A more appropriate analogy for Uber would not be white knights, but instead Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci from Casino. And it’s been a tough past few weeks for the Uber mafia.
Perhaps feeling a bit too big for their britches, the company recently implemented a surge pricing payment model, where during times of increased demand or inclement weather, they could increase fares at exponential wages. The plan was met with ire from both customers and the press.
First Uber’s CEO fought back, saying the surge prices would be here to stay. Then Uber relented by lowering fare prices in 16 cities. Then the CEO relented the relent, saying the lowered fare prices were an “economic experiment” instead of a response to consumer anger (say hello to $357 cab fares! Experiments in action!). Ultimately, he has made it very hard to determine whether or not he actually likes Uber customers or is simply an economic theorist, testing out hypotheses on the city streets of America. However he made it clear that he would rather be known as the latter.
Last Friday Sam Biddle at Valleywag (who has been hounding Uber so much recently that you couldn’t pay me a million dollars to be their PR rep. My favorite headline: ”
) revealed that Uber has resorted to using dirty tactics to eliminate a NYC competitive service called Gett. Per Biddle:
“Screenshots provided to Valleywag show multiple instances of Uber staffers using dummy Gett accounts for the sole purpose of canceling rides as a diversion. This includes Uber’s New York General Manager, Josh Mohrer, who ordered and canceled at least twenty Gett rides from December 30th, 2013 to January 14th of this year. Uber’s Operations and Logistics Manager, Jeanine Mendez, faked three ride requests in two days—Uber’s Community Manager Kimiko Ninomaya faked seven in a single day. After these rides had been canceled, Uber texted the affected drivers in an attempt to recruit them—and after all the frustration they’d had with Gett, it’d seem like a sweet offer.”
So after having the gaul to waste a driver’s time to pick up a ghost patron, they have the balls to then offer him a job. Did Uber apologize? Sort of. In one of the most non-apologies in the history of apologies, they called it “likely too aggressive a sales tactic.”
Oh, and one of their drivers ran over a six year old and killed her. On New Year’s Eve. Probably during surge pricing.
The lawsuit is blaming Uber.
Yeah. It’s been a tough few weeks for the mafia.
This all begs the question: Why? Why has Uber resorted to surge pricing? Why do they feel the need to sink to dirty tactics to ward off competitors? WHY ARE THEY KILLING AMERICA’S CHILDREN?
I think they are becoming yet another simple example of a company that didn’t know how to handle growth. The higher ups realized that they struck a nerve among city dwellers who were fed up with the consistently horrible quality associated with taxi fares, and were willing to schill out a little more dough for a much better experience. But then they flew (surged?) a little too close to the sun on the wings of inflated pricing, only to be burned by the heat of customer backlash.
I also believe that alternative taxi cab services may be inherently doomed to fail. In any city, regardless of size, there is a very limited amount of people who A) know the city so that they can adequately get from point A to point B, B (weird having two B’s in a row like that, anywho)) are decent drivers, and C) are generally good people who don’t try to screw over their passengers. The more the service grows, the more that already shallow talent pool dries up. The UberX brand in particular may be comprised of the scraps of that talent pool and people who don’t have one or any of its qualities, because let’s face it- there aren’t a lot of people that willingly drive taxis if they were capable of pursuing other career paths.
Ipso facto, the larger a taxi service gets, the more damage their brand is bound to suffer, the more people start looking elsewhere for rides.
Here are the experiences from my four recent Uber rides:
1) After being picked up in Coolidge Corner, our driver did not know how to get to Davis Square. I don’t think he was trying to bump of the fare; he was just an idiot. We used my phone’s GPS to get him there.
2) We were picked up by a man from Maryland who had driven up for the weekend just to give Uber rides in Boston, he said. He did not know the city, but he had a GPS and got us where we wanted to go.
3) I was driven from Charlestown to Brookline while it was snowing. The surge price added an additional 50% onto my fare.
4) I was picked up in the North End trying to get to Medford. The driver did not know how to get there, and asked for assistance. We asked him if he could get to 93. He said no. He instead went through a rotary about three times in panicked confusion.
Experiences 1 and 2 even out to be equivalent to the quality of a traditional taxi experience. Experience 3 was superior to a cab, but it cost 50% more than a regular Uber. Experience 4 was truly horrible and one of the worst overall driving experiences, taxi or otherwise, I’ve had in Boston.
This begs one last question why: Why am I using Uber?